Interview w/ The Wooden Birds

Andrew Kenny’s achingly ethereal voice whittles away your preconceptions about what a band, emotionally, is capable of doing. The singer-songwriter has been a workhorse when it comes to traveling coast-to-coast – he has done it practically nonstop – throughout his career; if you tracked the flight lines across the United States it would look like a cat’s cradle. Kenny, whose fame came from the critically lauded band American Analog Set, is now the frontman of The Wooden Birds, a band that has a forestry of harmony, a body of bruised lyrics, and a surgically efficient vocal hum has lulled listeners, methodically, into a sort of introspective minefield. Cinema Spartan caught up with the Austin, Texas bred artist for his take on current music, the Dallas Cowboys, and, of all things, the importance of Mexican food.


Robert Patrick: Many people have a romanticized view of traveling. Just last year you played over 100 shows. Does the thrill of the road decrease or increase after so many performances in such a short span of time?

Andrew Kenny: I think both happen. I think that the performance part reminds you of why you do what you do as an artist. When the time comes to to tour, I’ve become, most recently, more excited than I used to be. The process of touring reminds me of why we’re here. Everybody that’s in The Wooden Birds, currently, has toured outside of the band in other groups and projects. We know how to pick up some snacks and water bottles and just go.


In your opinion, how did the dynamic of The Wooden Birds change from the first to the second record?

When the first album was recorded we didn’t have a lot of experiencing playing together. We were just figuring out what sounds good on record. Before the second record came out, we learned a lot about each other by playing so many shows – we did around 150 together – so we formed a better idea of what we wanted. Songs we started on the road eventually became a part of the second album. I don’t know if it’s a dynamic that’s changed, but the sound of the second record [Two Matchsticks] is much more confident. There is a better cohesion with the album.


You have been quoted as saying that video games are your vice. Now that music has been implemented into video games more than ever, do you think we’ll ever see a Wooden Birds song pop up on either a console or a PC game?

I would love it, but I don’t think our music would be appropriate for it (laughs). It would be really cool, a tremendous honor even, but I don’t know how much they could do with our sound. In the game the protagonist would get up, make a bowl of cereal, and then fiddle around on the guitar a little bit. To have our music in a video game would be a great feather in our cap, honestly, but our vibe probably isn’t what most people would want in a typical game. The Sims has music in it, doesn’t it?

Yeah, it does.

We could maybe fit our music into that game (laughs).


In an era that is so dominated by mp3 singles, digital play lists and instant gratification by way of electronics, do you think that people have been desensitized to the practice of sitting down and listening to full albums as they were intended to be listened to?

I can only speak for myself, but when you look around I would say that. You could also say that people who simply listen to singles, instead of full albums, will always be the same, no matter what era we’re in. I don’t think that a person’s music preference can change all that much as a result of technology. It would be just as accurate to say that some people, in the 80s 90s for instance, never liked listening to entire albums much, so they wouldn’t be inclined to change their opinions today. It could be argued that the album format is for the smaller part of the population, but who knows, really. The Wooden Birds make albums. Lots of people like mp3s and mix tapes. People have the choice.


If you had to choose one song out of Wooden Birds’ catalog, for a first time listener to hear, which track would it be and why?

Good question. I don’t know. I’d say the title-track off of “Two Matchsticks.” That song is the band at its best; it shows a lot of what we do together, as good as we can do it together, in a concise way. I think it does show a lot of the best parts of who The Wooden Birds are.


The mediums of music and film often bleed into one another. Have you ever thought of scoring a film, and if so, what sort of movie would it be?

The only film I have scored was “Pickup and Return,” it was released, I think, in 2008 or 2007. I had a really good time doing it. I know that I’m going to compose another score someday, but I don’t know when. Once we get The Wooden Birds off of the ground, so to speak, I’ll concentrate on doing music for another film. I haven’t pursued anything yet, but it continues to be in the back of my mind.


Since you have scored a film, do you find yourself, now more than ever, paying attention to the music in movies that you watch?

I don’t know. The answer should be of course, but I don’t think I do. I have always listened to the music in films, so that hasn’t changed. I notice music on commercials more than I ever did before, though, so that’s the part that has altered. Now I hear songs on commercials and I wonder what song the music director for the production company told the band to emulate; I can imagine the director saying, “let’s try to make something sound like Phoenix for this commercial.” I listen to commercials, I noticed, more actively now than I have ever before. When I watch movies I have always listened to the music, so there’s not a real change there. One of my favorite directors is John Hughes. I’m 40-years-old so those movies were made for me when I was in high school, or near to being in high school. Those films implemented music in a way that a lot of movies don’t today.


Music piracy, coupled with the recession, has made it increasingly difficult for artists to stay afloat. Is the live show the savior of music? How do musicians combat a market that, modernly, is forever in uncertain waters?

I don’t know. I think it’s scary time in music. Sources of income are drying up. But for bands, strange as it sounds. it has also never been more exciting. In this climate artists can really carve out a niche for themselves. Rules and boundaries defined the 1990s and 2000s, now music has changed, in an exciting and scary way, that pushes artists to  find ways to stay afloat. You can make your own rules, change the way you want to market your band. The live shows are still a way to connect to the audience in a way that’s immediate, of course, but there are many ways to get your name out there. But with that said, when you’re on the road, you’re out there putting gas in your van and food in your belly, all while trying to promote your band. Not touring these days would be difficult on anybody.


What song off of “Two Matchsticks” have you found yourself having the most emotional response to when performing live?

“Long Time to Lose It.” That’s the song that’s come the farthest since it’s been recorded. That’s the one that we close the show with most nights and it’s always the most emotional song to play. There are a lot of songs that are totally void of dynamic. “Long Time to Lose It” is one of those songs that either works and works well or you don’t go for it and it falls flat. It’s the biggest risk and we play it every night. The song has become our anthem.


Do you think that Pitchfork Media is the new Rolling Stone magazine to today’s music listeners? Is the website an asset to artists and readers or can those stamps of approval really create black marks for bands that do not receive praise on the site?

Yes to the first question. I would call it The Rolling Stone to this generation. That’s great way to put it. Pitchfork has become the only game in town, which is scary, and depending on where you are in your trajectory as a fan, it can be a huge help or the complete opposite. The worst Pitchfork can do is not review your record. And if they don’t, still, it’s not the end of the world. In the beginning reviews from the site can only help your band, but after you have a record of two out it can only hurt you. But people love reading it; it wouldn’t be so popular if people didn’t rely on it as much as they did. People have spoken and they want Pitchfork.


In the future someone makes a movie about the band, on the poster, written across the top, is the film’s tagline; what will it say?

Wow. What a cool question. Hmm. This is an email interview question. Have you asked other people this, because it’s fucking great. This is a real slam dunk of a question. I don’t know; maybe “Wake up with Wood.” I was thinking about naming our live record that.


Finally, being that you’re a football fan, I read that you suggested, while he was coaching for Dallas, that Wade Phillips should sell hot dogs in the stands. Now that he’s not with the Cowboys anymore, do you think he took your advice?

I cant believe I said that. I don’t know. It was a bad marriage, Wade and the Cowboys. I hate that quote because I don’t want to be disrespectful to the Phillips family. I think he left the team better than he found it. But no I don’t think he’s selling hot dogs. It’s embarrassing that I said that.

I think it’s a great pull-quote.



When you were in San Diego last, did you have time to pick up any Mexican food?

No, we didn’t have time. We had to get something quick. There was a burger spot around the corner that was recommended to us, so we went there. We didn’t get any Mexican food, but I’ve had some great Mexican food downtown.

I hate to end the interview with a food, but sadly I did.



For more on The Wooden Birds, check out their official website; the band’s Facebook; or cruise over to Barsuk to check out additional information on Andrew Kenny and other artists on The Wooden Birds’ label.

Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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